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6 Ideas that Drive Donations

Now is the time to double down on your nonprofit’s virtual fundraising tactics! After a year of disruptions and unprecedented challenges, you’ve hopefully adapted with a few (or many) new online strategies for staying in touch with donors, reaching new audiences, and growing their support over time.

Organizations have already been relying on their online fundraising infrastructures for a while now. This is part of the reason why adapting to the challenges of COVID-19 has been a relatively smooth process for many organizations. Your own nonprofit has almost certainly had its own tools in place for fundraising online for quite some time.

However, there’s always room for improvement. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that adaptability is key. Continuing to refine and update your virtual fundraising strategies over time will be critical heading into 2021. And it all starts with the right ideas!

The most effective virtual fundraising ideas will help you offer donors new, engaging experiences while still allowing you to rely on many of the existing tools and tactics that you already have in your arsenal. If you haven’t already invested much time or attention in virtual fundraising, it’s definitely time to get started.

At Soapbox Engage, we develop fundraising and engagement apps, so we’ve been working closely with hundreds of growing nonprofits as they pivot towards updated virtual tactics. In this quick guide, we’ll walk through a few essentials for conducting virtual fundraising and six of the top ideas we’ve seen work for organizations of all shapes and sizes. Let’s dive in.

Getting Started with Virtual Fundraising

While it’s possible to continue engaging donors and raising money online without a dedicated virtual fundraising strategy in place, taking a more focused, strategic approach will always yield better results, both in terms of revenue and donor engagement. Whether you’re starting from scratch or simply looking to reassess and improve your virtual fundraising strategies for 2021, it’s useful to start with the essentials. 

Here are the core steps we recommend following as you build a new virtual fundraising strategy or look for ways to improve your current approach: 

  1. Dig into your online fundraising data to find trends and opportunities. How much do you currently raise online? What’s your average online donation? How do you acquire most of your online donors? Use your database or CRM to study the effectiveness of past online fundraising campaigns and areas where you’ve fallen short. 
  1. Expand or update your toolkit as needed. Review your current toolkit. Are you missing anything that will be necessary for future virtual fundraising ideas or events? There are plenty of free tools for nonprofits amid COVID-19, but remember that investing in more comprehensive software can be a smart move to anchor major strategy upgrades. 
  1. Integrate your software whenever possible. Your software should be able to freely share data between platforms, and especially to your CRM. For instance, your donation tool should directly report new transactions to your database, helping you keep a comprehensive, real-time record of who has given, when, and how much.
  1. Review your data management strategies. Virtual fundraising naturally relies more heavily on technology and data to succeed. With more engagement data flowing into your CRM, make sure you’re actively keeping it organized and useful. Combining data points under individual donor profiles and periodically screening for outdated information are invaluable first steps.
  1. Refresh your approach to multichannel marketing. In the virtual era, grabbing and keeping donors’ attention is key. Multichannel marketing involves using all of your marketing outlets (like email, social media, and your website) to generate more engagement across the board. Use each outlet to funnel readers towards deeper engagement and to direct them to central locations, like your donation and registration pages.

These core steps will give you a solid virtual fundraising structure to build your strategies around. Regardless of the exact fundraising ideas you choose to pursue, driving your strategy with data, using integrated tools, and making the most of all your marketing opportunities will be essential. By ensuring you cover all of these bases now, you’ll set your campaigns and events up for success in 2021.

Top 6 Engaging Virtual Fundraising Ideas

So now that you’ve developed, reviewed, or revamped your virtual fundraising infrastructure, which ideas will you use to engage donors and reach wider audiences for your mission? 

Let’s walk through 6 of our favorite ideas that we’ve seen work for nonprofits of all sizes. Each of these ideas and longer explanations can be found in the comprehensive Soapbox directory of virtual fundraising ideas, but here are quick takeaways for each of our top picks:

  1. Virtual Peer-to-Peer Events

Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns in which supporters fundraise on your behalf have been a staple of nonprofit fundraising for a while now. Usually culminating in a public event, like a walkathon or 5K, these campaigns are extremely engaging for donors and valuable for reaching wide new audiences. 

But with the shift to virtual, it’s time to get creative and bring your P2P campaign and event online! Virtual P2P events have quickly grown in popularity as nonprofits discover new ways to connect participants virtually. For instance, for a classic walkathon campaign, you can set up peer-to-peer donation pages for participants and have them secure pledges from friends and family. Then during the event have each walker log their distance and time manually or using a smartphone app.

  1. Virtual Gala and Auction

You might think it’s impossible to recreate these classic charity events in the virtual sphere. However, with the right technology, including intuitive bidding tools and live-streaming software, tons of nonprofits have already pulled off successful virtual galas and auctions in 2020.

Get creative to come up with the perfect theme for your gala, and plan an engaging program of speakers, videos, and live appeals. Online auction software for nonprofits should also make it easy to set up an item catalog and open bidding prior to the grand finale gala. Just be sure to give yourself plenty of time to plan this more intensive event, as promoting it to donors, setting up your technology, and procuring auction items can take several months.

  1. Live-streamed Telethons

This virtual fundraising idea is all about engaging your donors with a range of live-streamed and prerecorded video content. Like a classic charity telethon, the main idea is to give donors an entertaining evening while reiterating your mission, building community, and raising donations in the process.

Work with your team to plan and develop a multi-hour virtual program, saving your most exciting segments for the end. For instance, you might sell raffle tickets in the week leading up to your telethon and pull the winning tickets during the event’s final hour. Recruit an emcee to host the telethon, and ask constituents and community figures to record their own videos discussing your mission. Set up a live-streaming set, and ensure that donors can easily make online or text-to-give donations during the telethon.

Like other virtual events, telethons do require extensive planning. However, they’re relatively easier to pull off than traditional events because in-person venues and food logistics won’t be an issue.

  1. Virtual Classes, Discussions, and Gatherings

For a more casual virtual event, consider hosting unique classes, discussions, and community gatherings online. There are a number of ways you might pull off this virtual fundraising and engagement idea:

  • Recruit a staff member or volunteer with a skill to share, like baking, crafting, or gardening, and set up a series of live-streamed lessons. Charge registrants a small fee for access to all of the lessons, or offer a pay-what-you-want option for supporters to make donations when registering for your class.
  • Host a virtual discussion about your mission and relevant national or local public issues. Reach out to board members and local figures with expertise on issues relating to your mission, and then schedule a live-streamed roundtable. Instead of charging for attendance, ask attendees to give a suggested donation or make live appeals during the event itself.
  • Round up your community, including staff, volunteers, board members, constituents, and local partners for a casual virtual gathering. A virtual happy hour, holiday party, or celebration of a recently completed campaign are all engaging reasons to get together. Encourage attendees to give suggested donations and ask for donations at the end of the event, as well.

These virtual events require less intensive planning than larger-scale galas or P2P events, but they still need careful thought. Have a concrete plan and list of talking points to guide your discussions to ensure they stay engaging and mission-centric from start to finish. 

  1. Online Matching Gift Drives

Corporate philanthropy is a major opportunity for nonprofits to generate more revenue in 2021. According to Re:Charity’s guide to the topic, businesses of all sizes frequently support nonprofits with monetary donations, volunteer programs, event sponsorships, and in-kind donations in order to bolster their public images and ties with their communities.

The easiest way to get started raising more through corporate philanthropy in the virtual age is to host a matching gift drive. These corporate programs allow eligible donors to have their gifts financially matched by their employers, resulting in double the impact for nonprofits. Plan a time-bound online campaign in which you’ll focus heavily on promoting matching gifts to donors, encouraging them to make a donation and then check their eligibility for a match. 

The biggest reason why nonprofits fail to take advantage of these programs is because their donors simply don’t know about them. With a dedicated promotion drive, you’ll raise more and ensure that your donors know about potential matches for future campaigns, as well.

  1. Social Media Contests

Social media contests are an easy and engaging way to keep your mission on the minds of supporters. Here’s how it might work for your nonprofit:

  • Come up with a funny or meaningful contest for supporters to join by sharing their own photos and stories, like cutest pet pics, and offer a small prize to the winners. 
  • Provide followers a short template to include with their posts that mentions your organization’s mission and links directly to your donation page.
  • Ask participants to tag their submissions with a dedicated hashtag that you can use to track entries.
  • After your deadline passes, look through your submissions to pick the winner or winners. You might also set up a dedicated donation page for supporters to join the voting online by making a donation and selecting their favorite.
  • Announce the winner and share their picture on your main social media feeds.

This is a free, easy, and engaging way to connect with supporters online while raising some additional funding. Social media is an increasingly powerful way for nonprofits to stay in touch with donors and build stronger communities around their missions, so it’s a good idea to build out your 2021 calendar with a few low-intensity digital activities like photo contests.


With 2021 fast approaching, nonprofits of all sizes should take some time to reflect on the challenges they’ve overcome in recent months. Which new strategies have worked well? Which could use extra attention? Are there any gaps in your virtual fundraising that need patching?

Review your own virtual fundraising infrastructure with the data and tech tips above, and then start brainstorming the best campaign and event ideas for your own mission and audience. We hope our own favorites have been a helpful starting point for your team. Best of luck!

Author: Ryan Ozimek

As the founder of a software company serving the public sector, Ryan passionate about empowering organizations to “do good”.  With a focus on effective and efficient technology solutions, he’s constantly looking for ways in which the Internet can better serve the greater good, and more specifically the non-profit sector.  He leads up the Soapbox Engage team in our pursuit of affordable and accidental techie-friendly online engagement software, is a Salesforce MVP, and leads the NPSP Days around the world.  Ryan has a bachelor’s degree in communications from UCLA, and a masters of public policy from UCLA’s School of Public Affairs.  He’s also a fan of burritos, so if you have any tips to finding the best taqueria in the world, let him know.

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